Saturday, September 4, 2010

On Despairing in a Bookstore: Prose Edition (the musings of an orthodox rebel)

(Note: Find and read the poem editions here and here.)

"Give us help from trouble, for vain is the help of man. Through God we shall do valiantly, for it is He that shall tread down our enemies." Ps. 108:12-13

I have often found bookstores to be terrifying places. Apart from being black holes for a certain unnamed blogger's time and money, they can create an overwhelming sense of smallness. Within those wooden halls (whose walls are bleached with the stench of coffee), there is a seemingly infinite amount of thought and opinion floating around, coalescing together into a monstrous edifice of worldly wisdom and consideration. Before such a modern tower of Babel, one can feel extremely tiny and alone. I am not referring to that childish notion about how your individual beliefs could possibly be true before such a saturated intellectual marketplace (for mere vast numbers of counter claims and opinions do not negate the truthfulness of any one idea). What I am referring to is a sense of impotence and hopelessness before it all: even if what you believe is true, what does it matter? The sea of human opinion is vast and varied beyond any possible charting. How can you possibly hope to make any noticeable dent in it?

As already stated, this is not a problem with unbelief but rather despair. If you lose faith in one belief, then you can (and will) exchange it for another and move on with your life. If, however, you still have faith but feel as though it is faith in a lost cause, then what can you do? You know that Christ alone has the words of life, and thus there is really nowhere else to go (John 6:67-68); yet the darkness around your little circle of light seems impenetrable, an unholy mountain range of impassable crags and impossible caves. In short, you have great faith in what you believe but no faith in making it matter. Any and every escapade into the dark seems a frustrating failure, leaving you to "reel to and fro, and stagger like a drunken man" until you are "at [your] wit's end" (Ps. 107:27). Your feelings of smallness and loneliness are confirmed, and they spill over into feelings of uselessness, with all ending in despair.

It is at these points of desolation and discouragement that we must remember: "vain is the help of man," including ourselves. If we are despairing right now in the face of looming and accumulated public thought and opinion, then it is because we see the fight as ours and not God's. It is through Him and Him alone that "we shall do valiantly." I am not saying that we will knock the whole giant monolith of counter/non-Christian opinion over in a night (nor am I not saying that). What I am saying is that whatever our impact upon it (be it great or small), it will only come through God, not us. There is a thing that He has given each of us to do, some sharp sword to stick in the side of the spirit of the age and the prince of this world, a sword specific to each of us. If we see that sword as a matter of our own strengths and abilities, then we will feel smothered beneath the shadow of the world. However, if we "seek the Lord and His strength," then we will rejoice (Ps. 105:3-4) and go singing into the dark.

Epithet: Let the unquenchable joy of the Lord be your strength and His unconquerable strength be your joy.

-Jon Vowell (c) 2010

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